The next time you buy a skincare product, you might want to read more about its contents.

New study by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) of Singapore found that nano-particles of zinc oxide in products could potentially cause cancer.

Known for its effectiveness in protecting the skin against UV rays, zinc oxide is commonly used in sunscreens and cosmetics. As the compound also fights odours and bacteria, it is also used in fabrics and food packaging, and is present in baby powder, calamine lotion, anti-dandruff shampoos and antiseptic ointments as well.

When used in its regular-sized form, zinc oxide in sunscreens sits harmlessly on the skin’s surface, protecting you from harmful UV rays and serves as an important ally in your fight against age. Unfortunately, it tends to have a cosmetically unattractive white cast.

While nano-sized zinc oxide does not leave you with that Morticia Adams hue, researchers think it has the potential to enter human cells and damage DNA. Some damaged cells may end up multiplying freely and develop into cancerous tumours.

As scary as this sounds, you don’t need to rush to dump all your expensive sunscreens and creams just yet, as this is a preliminary cell culture study. Much more research is needed before any definite link can be drawn.

However, it points to the need to develop safer nano-materials that can be used in day-to-day products. Proper regulation of the production, handling or labelling of nano-products is also recommended.